I am looking for county-level data from the U.S. containing the counties' name and FIPS code (or any other identifier) as well as information total population and urban population rates. How urban population rates are calculated, i.e. what is classified as urban and non-urban is not extremely important. More, important is that definitions are consistent.

I am looking for data for the years 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010.

(This looks like a trivial question, and probably it is. However, I was not able to find any appropriate data when I was searching NHGIS, ICPSR etc. Maybe I overlooked something?)

Any suggestions?

  • 1
    Regarding definition: The distinction of rural and urban often changes every 10 years as a result of the Decennial Census. If you are looking to use a comparable measure, I would suggest creating one yourself or adopting one of the urban/rural definitions and apply it across the censuses. It should be doable since the definitions are based population, area, and adjacency. All of that information can be obtained with the data.
    – Kotebiya
    Dec 14, 2016 at 14:54
  • Regarding the data: I checked NHGIS and was able to request county-level data on population and urban/rural status for 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. We would need to know how you explored NHGIS and ICPSR in order to better help you navigate them. I went to NHGIS.org, clicked on "Select Data" and selected the necessary filters for Geographic Levels, Years, and Topics.
    – Kotebiya
    Dec 14, 2016 at 14:57
  • Thank you for your help. So like you, I selected the geographic level (county) and the years (1960, ..., 2010). If I then select both topics (using AND), total population and location of residence: urban, rural, farm status, I get no entries. If I select either of the two topics (using OR), I get a long list of possible datasets. I have checked all the entries for 1960 and the first entries for 1970 but none of these contained data on urban population. Ideally, I would like to have a list like this one icip.iastate.edu/tables/population/urban-pct-counties but for all US counties. Dec 14, 2016 at 16:21
  • Oh, I see, fair point. So, the thing about MPC is that their data delivery service works by a request of data. Admittedly, it makes less sense to use it for NHGIS than it does for iPUMS, but you select the filters and then make a confirmation for a data request. Then, the service provides you a link to the prepared package of your requested data.
    – Kotebiya
    Dec 14, 2016 at 17:48
  • Yes, that is correct. When I said, I checked the first 5 entries, I meant I requested them, got the prepared package opened the data and found it not to be helpful. Of course, I would not want to request all of the 100 candidates to check whether it could be useful for me. At the same time, I was not really able to determine the appropriateness of the data for my purpose from the documentation alone. In any case, it should not be so difficult to find urbanization rates at the county level? If anyone has ever come across a suitable dataset, giving me a hint would be much appreciated. Thanks. Dec 14, 2016 at 18:25

1 Answer 1


(After a while I have found some useful sources. I will answer my own question, so that future visitors to this site with the same question, have a starting point.)

Data 1940-1990 (from ICPSR):

Urbanization rate data for the earlier period can be obtained from the ICPSR 02896 data (see here). In particular, the datasets DS70 throughout DS78 and, in addition, DS83 cover the time frame above. Note that data (in most instances) either contains information on total population and total urban population, or on total population and urbanization rates, so that you are able to construct the third (and missing) variable yourself.

Data 1970-2010 (from NHGIS):

Urbanization rate data for the latter period can be obtained as time series data from the NHGIS (see here). To find the data go to select data, choose the years 1970 to 2010 and the topic "Urban, Rural, Farm status". Under the header Time Series Tables, you can then select the data set "Persons by Urban/Rural Status" which contains information on the absolute number of people living in urban and in rural areas for all US counties. Note, however, that the data seems to contain some errors (especially missing values coded as 0).

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